CENTRAL, LA (WAFB) - "We know how it feels when the prayer is not answered the way that you'd like it to be, and we know how it feels when it is," said Renee Hartley. "We've been on both sides of the equation."
Renee lives with her husband, Gene, in Central, La. When their son Dustin was very young, doctors made a discovery that would change his life and the life of his parents forever.
Dustin had duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes the muscles to weaken over time.
"Dustin was the most courageous man I've ever known," said Renee. "He knew he was in God's hands, and he trusted him. Now of course that doesn't mean he didn't ask why. We all do."
By the time he was 11 years old, Dustin was permanently constrained to a wheelchair.
"His mobility was very limited," Renee said.
But he pressed on. He drew with colored pencils. Because his muscles were so weak, his parents would move the paper for him. Renee proudly displays many of his works on the walls of her home.
"This one was done when our grandson was a toddler. You can see Dustin, he drew himself, a self-portrait of him in his wheelchair," she said, pointing to one of the pieces of artwork.
"A lot of his wishes were 'I wish I could play ball.' He wanted to run with his nieces and nephews," said Gene. "He'd get frustrated, yet he would not give up."
Dustin, like his parents, prayed for a cure and for him to one day be free of the wheelchair.
His niece even made a book, telling the story of a girl who dreamed of a cure for muscular dystrophy. It was a book Dustin never would get to see.
On June 29, 2014, Gene and Renee went to go check on their son in the morning, as they did every day.
"Seven o'clock, that was on a Sunday morning, we got up, that was our normal routine, and went to check on him and he had passed," said Gene.
At 32, Dustin's heart had grown weak. He suffered congestive heart failure and died in his sleep.
"Our prayers aren't always answered the way we'd like them to be, but god always hears us. His strength, and his peace, and his grace carried us through," Renee said.
Little did Renee know, in a matter of months she would be calling on God again. Flash forward to early March 2015.
"At about 4 am I woke up with the bed shaking violently," Renee said. "He was sweating and had a high fever. I took his temp. It was 104.5."
It was her husband Gene. His blood pressure was 70 over 40. Renee called 911 and Gene was rushed to the emergency room.
"That's when the doctor told me that he didn't think he would make it," Renee said.
A routine kidney stone had developed into septic shock, a condition with a mortality rate around 50 percent.
Renee was distraught. In a room off the hospital waiting room, Renee fellowshipped with family and friends who had joined her at the hospital.
"We joined hands praying, asking God to intercede in that situation," Renee said.
Days passed and Gene remained sedated. His hands and feet were black and swollen due to the lack of circulation.
Family, friends and church members knelt in prayer, perhaps none of them as fervently as Renee.
"It was a selfish prayer, because I couldn't lose him, I just lost my son, so I selfishly prayed, 'Just please God, please, spare his life, and I need him,'" she remembered.
On the third day in the hospital, Gene began to come off sedation. He became responsive and started mumbling.
Renee said, when the ventilator tubes were removed, his first words were "He brought me back." He was referring to Jesus.
"They were interceding for me," Gene said, "It was through the prayers of those people that God decided to spare my life."
Since then, Gene said he has made an effort to spend as much time with family and friends.
"Sometimes I'll be sitting somewhere and eating, and I don't know what to say but thank you Jesus for letting me be here at this moment," Gene said.
"If someone had told me a year ago, when we had just buried [Dustin] two weeks before, that a year from now you'd be interviewed about the power of prayer, I probably would have been angry. I probably would have thought what a cruel joke. I just lost my only son, how can you tell me that?" Renee said. "But yet here we are a year later, and I know that prayer is real. The power of prayer is real."
Renee and Gene also credit and thank the doctors for their skillful work. Talents they call gifts from God.
Gene's health continues to improve and his long-term prognosis is bright.